Agile SAP – contradiction in terms?

Agile SAP seemingly offers opportunities for further improving quality, reducing costs, and speeding up the delivery of SAP – be it new stuff, changes or fixes. Agile SAP however still often is regarded a contradiction in terms. That in a nutshell summarizes the outcome of the first Dutch Round Table on Agile SAP, Utrecht (NL).

The Round Table participants all have SAP leadership roles in their individual organizations. And all acknowledged the challenge to deliver SAP functionality in a reasonable time frame. Known issues are progressed understanding around requirements, changed circumstances, or conflicting priorities. But also a lack of insight in performance across the end-to-end SAP supply chain, unavailability of some scarce SAP resources, and conflicting Dev and Ops interests cause them headaches.

Of course, the Round Table participants had tried to address those issues before. They looked for instance into prototyping, time boxing, or improved Release Management. They changed their IT Governance model. And also, some experimented with Agile. Martin Bleyenberg, Director SAP Europe at Office Depot, a global company providing office supplies and services, tested a hybrid form of Waterfall and Agile during a Greenfield SAP implementation. During the Realization Phase 4-week sprints were executed, nine in total – it did however not completely bring the expected results. Jos Habets, SAP CCoE manager at social housing corporation Wonen Limburg, believes in Agile but experiences reluctance at Board level. Executives for instance are used to managing an agreed-upon scope – while the latter is flexible in the Agile world.

An Agile method such as Scrum can work for SAP, as was illustrated by other examples shared during the Round Table discussion. Configuring an Enterprise Application such as SAP ERP is significantly different from coding though; and applying Agile to SAP seems easier said than done. But SAP has come to the rescue! The Scrum-based version of SAP’s implementation methodology, AGILE ASAP 8, is available since 2013 and offers quite some accelerators. When discussion ASAP 8 it became apparent that there’s no room for so-called scrumdamentalists; Scrum can’t be fully done by the book when it comes to SAP. ‘Hybrid’ is more of a term that covers it. Agile SAP can better deal with progressed understanding, changed circumstances or prioritization conflicts. But still, some of the hot issues remained open for the Round Table participants.

Applying Lean production-logistics principles onto the IT supply chain is a relatively new approach to further optimizing the performance of IT departments. McKinsey research* dating from 2011 showed that Lean application development can bring substantial benefits: 10-25% faster delivery, 20-45% less defects, and a productivity improvement of up to 65%. Impressive figures, especially considering the very limited investments required.

The Round Table provided loads of new insight, the participants agreed during the evaluation. Agile and Lean are emerging also in the SAP world and the peer-to-peer discussions left plenty of room for exchanging experiences and for challenging the concepts. With all the discussion around how to best apply Agile and Lean in an SAP world, they decided to opt for another Round Table. The constructive setting made the participants hungry for more.

Frans de Roy, Information Officer at construction company BAM, pointed out he had missed the portfolio discussion for (Agile) projects – to ensure you don’t only do things right, but to also ensure you do the right things. In other words: to plan well-ahead which projects will best contribute to the business goals. Agenda topics for the next Round Table in March 2015 therefore are how-to arrive at a Lean IT organization and the voice of the business through the Product Owner role. To be continued.

*Bron: Tackling the roots of underperformance in banks IT, Dan Bensemhoun, Christophe Chartrin, Michael Kropf; McKinsey on Business Technology, Number 24, Autumn 2011

2 Replies to “Agile SAP – contradiction in terms?”

  1. I disagree with your statement “Scrum can’t be fully done by the book when it comes to SAP” as I’m working with a client where we have just hit our 2 year anniversary with a proper Agile for SAP implementation (no ASAP8 needed here)… there are some accommodations we’ve made as we’ve learned how to do it, but it’s proven so successful with the first team that 3 other teams were spun up in the second Quarter of 2015, 2 additional in the fourth Quarter, and starting 2016 with 3 more teams itching to get started. Maybe that Round Table needs to be expanded to include people who’ve actually done it already?

    1. Great to hear your client has also succesfully applied Agile for SAP, Curtis! We have similar experiences, both in projects and ‘scaled’ to the IT organization. Sharing this experience was one of the main drivers behind the Round Table discussions, the third of which we did in the summer of 2015.

      We’re currently doing an Agile S/4HANA (Central) Finance project, happy to elaborate on why Scrum can’t be fully done by the book when it comes to SAP 🙂

      – Mendel

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